Something Rotten is an original musical by Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell about two brothers, Nick (Rob McClure) and Nigel (Josh Grisetti), struggling to make a name for themselves in Renaissance England. But how can these two writers manage to compete with the Bard, himself, William Shakespeare (usually Adam Pascal, but his understudy, Daniel Beeman, played Shakespeare at my performance)? Naturally, the only thing that could compete with Shakespeare is a musical! The musical follows the Bottom brothers as they struggle to write a musical good enough to be better than William Shakespeare’s plays.
First things first: I love this musical. It was my favorite musical featured in the 2015 Tony Awards. I think it’s a funny, moving, well-written show with spectacular music. So this review won’t really be covering parts of the musical, rather it will deal with the performance I attended (April 8, 2017, matinee) and how that particular performance went.
The biggest thing to note: Adam Pascal was absent in this performance. One of his understudies, Daniel Beeman, played the role of Shakespeare instead. This was a disappointment, mostly because I didn’t notice any cast replacements on the cast board in the lobby and there was never an announcement made prior to the show that Adam wouldn’t be playing Shakespeare. So I spend the entire first act looking forward to hearing and seeing Adam Pascal as Shakespeare only to see someone else walk onstage for “Will Power”. The person playing Shakespeare instead of Adam Pascal could’ve been the most amazing performer ever and I’d still have been a bit disappointed. When you’re expecting Adam Pascal and you don’t get him, you’re a little letdown.
That being said, Daniel Beeman was simply brilliant as Shakespeare. He nailed the comedic timing, the charm-yet-skeevy attitude of the character, and had a strong voice. He was a joy to watch, particularly during Shakespeare’s part in “Bottom’s Gonna Be On Top”. When (small spoiler) Shakespeare disguises himself as Toby to infiltrate the Bottom brothers’ new play, Beeman is particularly enjoyable, throwing a thick Irish or Scottish sounding accent onto the character and emphasizing the sheer silliness of Shakespeare fooling Nick and Nigel while wearing such a foolish disguise. While I’m sad I didn’t get to see Adam Pascal, Daniel Beeman was certainly a worthy person to see in Adam’s place.
As for the rest of the cast, they were great! Particular highlights were Rob McCure as Nick, Blake Hammond as Shakespeare, and Scott Cote as Brother Jeremiah. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very fond of Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel. He wasn’t bad or anything. In fact, he had an abundance of energy that really infected the opening number of the show, “Welcome to the Renaissance” with excitement. However, I found his singing to be a bit lackluster. He can sing, but his voice isn’t the strongest and I feel the Minstrel really needs to come out with a bang. On a more positive note, I love that Scott Cote really played up the flamboyant side of Brother Jeremiah to great success. Pretty much any time Jeremiah entered or exited the stage, the audience was laughing their guts out.
Speaking of laughter, I had forgotten how funny this show is. So many of the jokes in the show are either visual gags or found in the book of the musical (as opposed to the score), and getting to see the show and see the jokes surrounded by a ton of people who were all having a good time with at the theatre filled me with joy and energy. Every joke was funnier because of how the audience reacted. The person sitting next to me was enjoying the show so much that I could occasionally hear him mutter something. It was incredibly endearing. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a show that really went out of its way to make sure the audience has a good time seeing it. That’s something that Something Rotten has always been good at, and it shines particularly bright here.
Also of note should be the superb light design. There aren’t words to describe their impressiveness, so I’ll just stick with a simple “wow.” The lights were just wow. For the most part, the sound was good. It was mixed well. Unfortunately, several times throughout the show, various actors’ mics were late getting turned on so the beginning of a line wouldn’t be able to be heard all the way up in the topmost balcony (where I ended up sitting). This is really just my inner theatre nerd nitpicking an imperfect performance. The reality of live theatre is that it will never be 100% perfect. A mic will come on late, someone will miss a cue or stray from the melody of the song too much. It’s both the biggest pro and the biggest con of live theatre; anything can happen.
Both the choreography and general production value of this show were fantastic. They really aim for the stars when it comes to providing the audience with entertaining and impressive choreography. Much of the choreography, like bits of the music and various jokes throughout the play, harken back to – or poke fun at – classic Broadway dances and as a theatre nerd, I appreciated this immensely. So much of Something Rotten is playing the guess-what-musical-they-just-referenced game. Additionally, the set was more intricate that I had anticipated it would be. There were so many moving parts and backdrops. It was awesome; I can’t sing the praises of the set designer any louder. And how could I get away with not mentioning the costumes? They’re very similar (if not the exact same) as the ones on Broadway were. And they’re still fantastic and shiny and over-the-top, and it fits the show superbly.
All in all, Something Rotten at the DPAC is a good trip to the theatre. You’ll get a funny show starring talented actors and featuring superb production value. You can’t really go wrong with this show. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes musicals or Shakespeare.
(4 out of 5 wands)
Something Rotten continues at the Durham Performing Arts Center through April 9, 2017. Tickets can be found on their website.